Trinidad, 133 km south of Santa Clara, is a perfect relic of the early days of the Spanish colony: beautifully preserved streets and buildings and hardly a trace of the 20th century anywhere. It was founded in 1514 by Diego Velázquez as a base for expeditions into the ‘New World’ and Hernan Cortés set out from here for Mexico in 1518. The five main squares and four churches date from the 18th and 19th centuries and the whole city, with its fine palaces, cobbled streets and tiled roofs, is a national monument.
The Plaza Mayor is the centre of the town, an elegantly adorned square with white wrought-iron railings and ornate lamp posts in the middle shaded by a few towering Royal palms. Some of the very few two-storey buildings can be found here, denoting the importance of the plaza and all are painted in pretty pastel colours with red-tiled roofs.
Architecturally, Trinidad is perhaps Cuba’s most important town: its preserved and colourful colonial buildings are suspended in a time warp and since 1988 it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the families who live in the old houses rent out rooms and this is one of the best places to lodge privately. There is good hiking among picturesque waterfalls and abundant wildlife in the forests up in the mountains overlooking Trinidad. Playa Ancón, nearby, is a reasonable beach to relax on and a good base for boat trips and watersports.
The city has long attracted the attention of adventurers and there was a particularly severe period of attacks between 1660 and 1688. But unlike other populations who moved inland to escape pirate attacks, the inhabitants of Trinidad decided to stay and defend their wealth with their own fleet, inflicting several defeats on British and Dutch corsairs in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the British took Havana in 1797 they tried and failed to invade Trinidad and Sancti Spíritus. After a time, sugar was introduced and by 1797 there were 56 sugar mills and 11,697 slaves imported to work in the sugar cane fields. Trade, the arts and sciences all expanded on the back of the sugar prosperity:
The well-off patricians built huge mansions for themselves (now museums) and sent their children to European universities. However, the Industrial Revolution and the increase in sugar beet grown in Europe sounded the death knell for an economy based on slave labour and in the second half of the 19th century Trinidad went into decline. Construction ceased and the city remained frozen in time with its cobbled streets and red-tiled roofs.